Masonry Repair Versus Masonry Restoration?


For those people who require some form of masonry work on their home or commercial building, it is important to consider the magnitude of the work involved.

When we think of masonry repairs, this can include items such as sawing out and replacing individual bricks which may be porous or warn (spot- pointing), it could also include re-surfacing a deficient area of parged foundation wall. Chimney repairs such as replacing a cracked cement chimney cap or degraded flue tiles are also common repair items.

All such work described falls into the category of masonry repairs. Completing these and other types of masonry-related repairs serves to mitigate larger more expensive scopes of work by being proactive.

In Toronto, the vast majority of homes, condominiums, and low-rise commercial buildings have a brick façade. Interestingly, the exterior brick envelope is often overlooked because it often does not immediately present evidence of interior problems. This is a clear example of out of sight, out of mind.

When a roof leaks, most people are very immediately alerted to an issue. Similarly, foundation walls are an alert point for most conscientious property owners. But it is hard for most people to notice the impact of deteriorating bricks on their building or home.

Some common masonry repair inspection points include the lower portion of brick walls which are adjacent to driveways. This is an area where snow and ice, salt, etc. may serve to prematurely corrode the surfaces of bricks in the vicinity. Also brick porch piers, south, and west-facing chimney surfaces, support columns, and areas of brickwork that are more than one hundred years old.

From inspection, a plan of remedial or strategic repairs can be determined, which then allows the property owner to complete the work in phases or as a whole depending on what budgets may permit.
This is more affordable than completing a large masonry restoration project which has become necessary due to putting off or not recognizing that such work was required.

Masonry restoration projects are larger scopes of work that typically require more elaborate project setups which can involve scaffolding and dust remediation strategies. A masonry restoration project is usually over two weeks long and could involve months in duration depending on the size of the building project.

Masonry restoration projects are typically designed for bringing back historical authenticity to a building or when remodeling of a structure is required to make the building envelope sound.

What is common among masonry restoration projects is the requirement to replicate mortar colours in order to achieve an appearance where it is difficult to tell the difference between older and original sections of a building. Brick matching can be a difficult task on certain heritage buildings simply because the bricks are no longer being manufactured.

As a result; it can be necessary to source and collect such bricks through architectural salvage, and often from U.S. sources from cities like Chicago and New York where similar character buildings existed. Where
no brick matches can be found, harvesting bricks from rear or non-visible portions of a building can be cleaned and re-used to restore front facades. Where no brick match possibility exists, the mason will typically obtain approval to use as close a match of brick which is currently manufactured to substitute for the original bricks.

Also common when completing masonry restoration is the replacement of limestone sills and headers associated with windows and doorways. In many instances, original construction methods must be fortified by the installation of steel lintels and headers to meet today’s building code requirements.

In the case of architecturally significant properties, gargoyles and pediments, granite columns, and other determined building features must be restored or replicated by specialists from overseas who have the craftsmanship skills to replicate such details. Restoration projects of these magnitudes can be thought of in terms of two to three years as the time necessary to obtain the needed details to complete such projects.

Minor examples of typical restoration projects can be related to once average homes built in the mid to late eighteen hundreds; which are commonly found in the corridors of streets that line Bloor st. to the north and south in Toronto extending up to Davenport Rd. and south to the lake (Ontario).

Such homes today are considered prime real estate in the Toronto market and as such, it makes financial sense to invest to maintain the original character of these homes.

In association with such restoration projects, the need to rebuild parapet walls associated with flat roofs and the rebuilding of chimneys is a common part of the restoration agenda.

There is considerable effort required to estimate and specify these restoration projects. Many homeowners will rely on the services of a historical architect to complete research and provide a defined scope of work for which an experienced masonry firm can establish pricing for the particular project.

For less detailed homes or buildings, an experienced masonry firm can usually develop and provide a strategy for the average homeowner which incorporates if financially necessary; a phased approach to completing work over a two to three year period to bring the home’s façade to like-new condition.

Part of a masonry restoration strategy should consider factors like semi-detached homes where disturbing brickwork at the property line can impact the integrity of the masonry on a neighboring home, This can be particularly true where brickwork may relate to foundation areas that have sunken over time or where water ingress has impacted the basement foundation.

It is important to inspect surfaces that are scheduled for masonry restoration to observe items such as bellying of the walls (masonry bulging outward), shifting of brick courses, or lateral or stepped cracks appearing between brick courses on the surface wall.

This can signal the potential for collapse of the particular brick façade. In such cases, it may be referred to simply dismantle the bricks and brick up a new surface from a sound foundation.

Also in the context of brick restoration are homes that have either had sandblasting completed in decades past or where bricks have been painted. By painting the bricks, it can result in trapped
moisture within the brick surface which over many years has experienced freeze-thaw cycling and for which the bricks become unsalvageable. Sandblasting processes served to remove the glazing from the brickwork and resulted in brick surfaces becoming porous, allowing water to absorb into the brick and is often characterized by chunks of mortar joint voids and efflorescence appearing on the exterior wall surface.

When such conditions exist; the brick restorer should test areas of the brick surface in order that proper advice can be communicated to the client. The best result may simply be to red-brick the façade under such circumstances.

It may also be possible to restore such areas and apply an appropriate sealer coating.

Restorative brickwork is a completely different sport when compared to new build brickwork. The process is more labour intensive and takes time to do well; particularly when having to blend into existing wall sections. It is far from an amateur endeavor.

This brings the conversation back full circle to the original thesis of completing a regimen of brick repairs on an as-needed basis. One can think of brick repair work as being proactive, preventative maintenance, as opposed to brick restoration which is a surgical procedure to make the old new again on a much larger scale.

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